Plants make human life possible, yet writers of science fiction and fantasy have often shown them to be strange and menacing. For instance, the title character in The Thing from Another World (1951) is a plant, a kind of super carrot. The aliens from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the plague species in The Day of the Triffids (1962) are also plants. Then there was The Happening from 2008. Science fiction and fantasy artists often let us know that something is strange or alien by painting it green. So why should plants be scary or threatening? They may be alien to us, and they may be green, but they are mostly harmless. There are of course plants to stay away from: poison-ivy and giant hogweed for their toxins, briars and brambles for their thorns. Maybe those plants remind us of wild beasts with their poisoned fangs and their claws that catch. More disturbing are plants that move, like the Venus flytrap. Maybe we imagine that plants might want to devour us. After all, we have been devouring them since the beginning. (A moving plant large enough to devour a human is a staple of fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories.) I can think of a couple of other reasons why plants might be seen as strange or menacing. Both have something to do with weird fiction. First, the dense, dark, overgrown forest or jungle can seem frightening or oppressive. Wild animals lurk there. So might witches and demons and even the devil himself. The Puritans are supposed to have been frightened of the forest. Young Goodman Brown was stripped of his illusions after a night in the darkened woods. Second, if weird fiction is about the past and about decadence, then the image of a tree or a jungle overtaking or growing up among a ruined house or a ruined city becomes symbolic. It may just be too much for us to consider, for we, too, shall be overtaken as all things are by the passage of time.
|Who says a weird story can't be told in the form of a gag cartoon? Charles Addams did it. So does Sam Gross. George Price (1901-1995), the creator of this drawing and one of my favorite New Yorker cartoonists, did it on occasion, too.|
Now let the covers begin.
|Here's one example among many from the art world, "Daphne and Apollo" by the British Pre-Raphaelite artist John William Waterhouse (1849-1917).|
|Finlay's cover reminds me of "Persephone," a painting by Thomas Hart Benton from 1938-1939. I wonder if Benton would have seen Finlay's illustration before beginning his own composition.|
|The apple trees from The Wizard of Oz (1939), one of the creepiest parts of that movie.|
|Frank Frazetta got in on the act in 1970 with his own version of a monster-tree.|
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley